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February 14, 2019 Black History Month Tribute – Ron Johnson

Posted on February 13, 2019 by Barry Gallagher

Today is a great day to celebrate the Michigan Football career of a Wolverine record setter named Ron Johnson. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, Ronald Adolphis “Ron” Johnson was born on October 17, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in Detroit and attended Northwestern High School where he became a star athlete on the football and baseball teams. In 1965, Bump Elliott offered Johnson a chance to play for the Michigan Wolverines and Ron accepted. The rest, as they say, is history! 

(Note-Captain Ron Johnson (#40) is shown above with the 1968 Michigan Football team. He is seated in middle of the front row – holding the football. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)

Ron Johnson Arrived in Ann Arbor in 1965

Ron Johnson arrived in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1965. Like every other freshman on the team, he practiced and did his best to learn how to play “Michigan Football.” Coach Elliott had a number of experienced seniors at running back in 1966. So, Ron Johnson did not play much in 1966. He only had 12 carries for 44 yards. However, he did earn a letter on a team that finished with a final record of 6 wins and 4 losses.

Ron Johnson and Coach Bump Elliott 1968 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Ron Johnson became the first African American player to captain a Michigan team in 1968. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

A record Setting Starter in 1967

The talented Johnson earned a starting job in Bump Elliott’s backfield in 1967. In his third start, he broke the Michigan and Big Ten Conference single game rushing record with 270 yards on 26 carries in a 21-26 loss to Navy. Johnson finished the season with 982 yards on 210 carries. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry and scored 6 touchdowns. He earned All-Conference honors with his stellar play and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1967 Michigan Football team. Unfortunately, the Wolverines ended the season with a final record of 4 wins and 5 losses.

Captain Ron Johnson was back for his senior season in 1968. He was the first African-American captain in the history of the Michigan Football program. He was also a marked man because he was the best running back in the Big Ten. Defensive coordinators stayed up late during “Michigan Week” because they had to have a good plan to stop Ron Johnson.

A Legendary Season in 1968

As it turned out, only two teams really stopped Ron Johnson in 1968. He only rushed for 48- yards against California and totaled 51 against Illinois. However, he gained 84-yards against Minnesota and 91 at Ohio State. Ron also had four 100-yard games along with one 200-yard game and his best – a 347-yard effort against Wisconsin. Yes, he had a great season in 1968. Johnson’s outstanding efforts helped Michigan finish with a record of 8 wins and 2 losses. 

Record Setter Ron Johnson 1968 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Ron Johnson (#40) ran over, around and through the Wisconsin defense for 347 yards. A Michigan record that still stands today! Bob Penksa (#76) helped pave the way on some of those yards! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Ron Johnson’s Michigan Legacy

The best way to summarize Ron Johnson’s illustrious Michigan career is to document some of the important “firsts” that connect him to Michigan Football.

·         Ron Johnson is the first Michigan back to rush for 270 yards in a single game. (Navy in 1967).

·         Johnson is the first, and only, Michigan Man to rush for 347 yards in a single game! (A 34-9 win over Wisconsin on November 16, 1968).

·         Ron Johnson is the first man to score 5 touchdowns in one game in the “modern era.” He scored 5 rushing touchdowns against Wisconsin in 1968.

·         Johnson is the first, and only, Michigan running back to rush for 19 touchdowns in a single season (1968).

·         Ron Johnson was the first Michigan Man to record over 1,300 yards in a single season in 1968. He finished with 1,391 in that record setting season. He was also the first man to average over 130 yards per game in a single season in 1968. (He finished with an average of 139.1 yards per game in 1968.)

·         Johnson was the first Maize and Blue running back to record at least 4 games of more than 150 yards in a single season in 1968. (Note – he was also the first man to record two 200-yard games in one season in 1968 and also the first to total over 300 yards in one game.)

·         Ron Johnson was the first Wolverine to record 2,400 rushing yards in a career from 1966 to 1968. (He finished with 2,417.)

·         Johnson was the first Maize and Blue running back to record ten 100-yard games in a career from 1966 to 1968.

Finally, Ron Johnson was also the first African-American player to be a Captain, Most Valuable Player, All-Conference and All-American in a single season. Oh yes, he was also the first African-American player to be a two-time team MVP (1967 and 1968).

Ron Johnson Michigan All-American in 1968 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Captain Ron Johnson earned All-American honors in 1968 along with All-Conference and team MVP honors.

May Ron Johnson Rest In Peace

Yes, Ron Johnson was a great player and a better man. He quietly waited his turn. Then, Ron went on to enjoy a record-setting Michigan Football career. Today is a wonderful day to appreciate Mr. Johnson’s contributions to the great history of Michigan Football. To read more about Ron Johnson’s life in the NFL check out the link below.

Sadly, Ron Johnson passed away on November 10, 2018. May the great Ronald A. Johnson Rest in Peace. Go Blue!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Johnson

http://bentley.umich.edu/athdept/football/fbteam/1968fbt.htm

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